If you like Her View, you'll love our new book, So God Made a Mother. Pre-Order here ➡️

Dez Santana is a born-and-raised New Yorker. I was put in touch with him via a common friend on Facebook and he graciously agreed to tell me about his experience during 9/11. Dez’s story is a little different, as he was present at “Ground Zero” for four months but does not have medical training or rescue training. However, his role was vital to the efforts. He works as a full-time land surveyor supervisor, and is a freelance photographer. Here is his story:

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was heading to work as normal. While travelling on the highway with my co-workers, we could see one tower burning. We turned on the radio and they said a small plane may have hit the tower. However, it was a clear blue sky, and I doubted that explanation. It was at this point I watched in disbelief as a second plane hit the second tower. We witnessed the impact and resulting fireball. I immediately called my sister who works near the World Trade Center and my ex-girlfriend. All circuits were busy. Nobody could get through. The only person with whom I could communicate was my father because both of us owned a Nextel radio.

My co-workers and I then proceeded towards the Brooklyn Bridge to pick up another co-worker, as our bosses told us to report to our job sites that day. After we picked him up, we heard that a co-worker was stuck on one of bridges we would eventually have to cross. It was closed in both directions so I decided to take us back to the office. At this point, we witnessed the first tower collapse.

Our office contacted us, instructing us to return home and to prepare to come to work the following morning at the now-collapsed World Trade Center. We were now considered First Responders. I remember feeling afraid and super-alert because we didn’t know if there were more attacks coming. We heard the Pentagon was hit, and the plane that went down in Pennsylvania. I remember feeling anger as well because another country had penetrated our defense systems.

Upon reporting the following day, and the many days after that, it was our job to monitor all structures above ground and below ground with highly accurate computerized surveying equipment. With the equipment, we could detect movement on the buildings. Since seven buildings collapsed at Ground Zero, there was small seismic activity registered, and other buildings, as well as the remains of the World Trade Center could have been compromised.

The First Responders participating in rescue attempts and clean-up could not work at the site unless we were watching structures. We had horns to notify personnel if there was movement on any of the buildings. They were required to evacuate and disperse if we sounded that horn. Luckily we never had to.

We worked at the site until December 31, 2001. We did 14 hour shifts, two days on, two days off to reduce people burning out. When my shifts were over, I went home. There, I’d peel off my dusty clothing in the hallway and shower. I’d watch the news, eat and go to sleep, knowing I’d be back at it all over again.

The worst part of the ordeal was knowing that thousands were dead and buried in the rubble. The combination odors of toxic fumes, death, and gasoline was something I never smelled before. I also saw many body parts, knowing each belonged to someone’s loved one. In our spare time and during breaks, we attempted to locate perished firemen in the debris with our scopes or surveying equipment.

I knew three people who died on that day. A fourth friend who was a police officer died years later of colon cancer. It was his job to dig through the debris searching for DNA.

Despite 15 years passing, being mentally strong, and able to cope with many things, I still have occasional nightmares. Usually I envision things like the city being under nuclear attack or something similar. I don’t have flashbacks when awake. I cope with the nightmares by realizing it’s just a dream.

Through the horror, there were positive moments. There was extreme patriotism exhibited after the attacks. Everyone was genuinely nicer towards each other. There were also emergency workers from all over the world who came to help us in this ordeal.

I will always remember. I have been in the Honor Guard twice during the 9/11 anniversaries at the World Trade Center site. I also honor the victims of that day with photography during the “Tribute In Light”: http://www.dezsantana.com/wtc_tribute. I photograph the Tribute every year and will have new additions soon. And I remember my friends who lost their lives that day or those who lost their lives later due to health complications from the rescue and clean-up efforts.

Thank you to Dez for the photos, for his memories, and for all he did in the aftermath of 9/11. Be sure to view his website at: http://www.dezsantana.com. On his website, you can find a yearly array of photographs of the World Trade Center “Tribute in Light.”

So God Made a Mother book by Leslie Means

If you liked this, you'll love our new book, SO GOD MADE A MOTHER available for pre-order now!

Pre-Order Now

Jessica McCaslin

Jessica is a mom who is working outside the home part-time and who is learning to cope with the ever-changing daily challenges of full-time parenthood. She graduated with her Master's degree in community counseling from the University of Nebraska at Kearney in 2005, and works with a diverse mental health population. Jessica resides in Central Nebraska with her husband and four children on the family ranch.

Loving Mom (Thanks, Amazon)

In: Grief, Living, Motherhood
Woman and mother smiling, color photo

I was online, searching old Amazon orders for a part we’d bought for our 1998 Buick Regal. The car was Mom’s. She’d given it up at 86 after I said her grandsons would be grateful to use it. She’d laughed with delight as Gabe, newly licensed, pulled away from her place in her Buick, heading home to California. It was a good car, but the original parts were wearing out. That’s why I scrolled through my orders, to see which window pulley assembly we’d purchased last time. As I scrolled, I was struck by all the gifts I’d ordered for...

Keep Reading

There’s a Little Less of You Here Each Day

In: Grief, Grown Children
Elderly man and younger woman's arms around his neck

I’m sitting here on the front porch, and I’m sobbing. I’m finally grieving. I’ve finally reached the place where my heart knows what my brain has known for years. I am now dreaming of the day we meet again in Heaven, Dad, and you look at me and I will see in your eyes that you know it’s me: your daughter. I won’t be “the woman who comes by every day to our house” as you described me to Mom the other day. And this sucks. This early onset Alzheimer’s has stolen a brilliant mind. It’s stolen my mother’s dear...

Keep Reading

Grief is a Wild Horse

In: Grief
Woman in water at sunset

I burst into tears the other day at the nail salon. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” came on over the speakers, and though it was muffled by people’s chatter, the line, “Through the years we all will be together, if the fates allow,” cut through the scars of my heart like a hot knife. Tears poured out of me and into the pedicure basin. I don’t apologize anymore, though. It used to scare me that grief was non-linear. That it can creep up without warning and strike. I would rush to hide and chide myself to pull it together....

Keep Reading

Please Don’t Let My Baby Die

In: Cancer, Motherhood
Toddler boy lying in hospital bed, color photo

I wasn’t made for this.  I am not strong enough. Lord, where are you taking me? Why does this joyful time, filled with our last baby’s firsts, have to be this way? Why did the doctors look at me that way? They know what’s coming, and deep down inside, so do I. The inevitable word that is about to come out of their mouths.  The C-word.  Cancer. It’s life-changing.  Almost as if it were a car accident. Believe me, I know about that. To be the reason behind a grown man hanging onto a thread. Completely unintentional. I just needed...

Keep Reading

Hug My Babies In Heaven For Me, God

In: Grief, Loss, Motherhood
Woman looking up at sunset sky

To my babies in Heaven,  I still miss you.  Sometimes I wonder if you can see us from Heaven. Do you get to watch us raise your siblings? Do you know us, like we long to know you? Are you proud to be our child? Does God ever pass on the messages I give to you in my prayers?  I hope so. I miss you. I miss you in the car rides when I look back and see two car seats where there should be more. I miss you when your siblings are laughing together, and I wish you were...

Keep Reading

I Should Have Taken More Photos of My Mom

In: Grief, Loss
Grandmother holding newborn, color photo

What’s the one thing I wish I did before my mom died? Take more photos. But no, I assumed I’d have more time. We always have more time, right? Until we don’t. My baby was born, and I was frazzled. Lost in a sea of having a third child and postpartum anxiety. My mom asked for photos. I was nursing, I hadn’t showered. I felt gross. I didn’t want to let my last baby go from my arms. I had time, right? Until you don’t. She asked for photos. And now. We only have one. We only have one.  I...

Keep Reading

I Carry the Baby I Lost In My Heart

In: Baby, Grief, Loss, Motherhood
Early sonogram image of baby

I ignored it at first, the pink on the tissue. It wasn’t anything to worry about. I’d known for three weeks at this point that I was expecting baby number three, and I was still giddy about it. In fact, I had just shared my news with people at work and told them when I was due.  I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face.  So, when I visited the bathroom, I ignored it.  Two healthy textbook pregnancies and births, why would this be any different?  But, looking back, there was a little nagging voice at the back of my...

Keep Reading

The First Christmas Without My Parents Cuts Deep

In: Faith, Grief, Loss
Sad woman with Christmas tree lit up in background

“This is going to be the first time we go through the holidays without mom.” How many times have I heard these words spoken by others? How am I just now understanding how full of meaning this statement really is? Nearly 60 years old, this will be my first Christmas as an orphan. My sister and I lost my father over 10 years ago, my mother just last summer. It will be up to us to create memories for the younger generation, and I have faith that we are up to the task.  It isn’t that my parents made a...

Keep Reading

Dear Grieving Heart, Be Still and Know

In: Faith, Grief, Loss
Little girl with flowers standing next to casket, color photo

It is said that grief has stages. Five to be exact. Not sure where I am on that scale, but I can tell you I have reached acceptance and then floated right back down to denial, all in a matter of days. What I am beginning to realize is that grief isn’t linear. It goes through waves and has a rhythm all of its own. Anger and acceptance can (and do) co-exist. You can be happy and sad at the same moment. You can feel lost and confused, yet know exactly where you are or feel completely alone in a...

Keep Reading

Your Love Is Passed On

In: Grief, Loss
Woman smiling, black and white photo

For so much of my life, I never understood why people used the phrase “passed on” when someone died. I thought it was an oblique turn of phrase. A weak way to express the truth of the matter. The person died. No reason to soften the truth, no need to cushion the blow. It wasn’t until my mother left this earthly plane a year ago that I started to understand the difference between the words “died” and “passed on.” I haven’t measured the time that my mom has been gone in days or months, but rather I have marked her...

Keep Reading